MasterChef: The Professionals is set to make its return to BBC One this autumn for its 16th series. Thirty-two ambitious chefs from all corners of the country will vie for the coveted title of 2023 Champion.

Leading this revered cooking competition in the UK are Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing, celebrated MasterChef judge Gregg Wallace, and the esteemed returning chef, Monica Galetti.

The new series of MasterChef: The Professionals will premiere on BBC One and iPlayer on Monday, 23rd October at 9pm.

Bradford Zone had the pleasure of speaking with Marcus Wareing, Gregg Wallace, and Monica Galetti about their return.

What’s it been like to come back together after a break?

Monica: “It’s been wonderful coming back into the fold with good friends. It’s like a little family here and we’ve just had the best time reconnecting with everyone. I also feel that this time so much more relaxed than ever before. We all share that feeling of really enjoying every day that we’re together and wanting the best for the chefs that walk through that door.”

Marcus: “I agree. Anna did a really great job last series and we’re so grateful to her for stepping in, but of course I missed having Mon here. It feels like she’s just been away for a long holiday. It is like seeing an old friend, which is really brilliant. It’s been a great year of chefs and especially cool that we had lots of talented female chefs in the kitchen. This year is one where I think we’ve had the most women and it really did mix it up. We had some great food and some really good times.”

Gregg: “Well I absolutely loved working with Anna, but it’s so lovely to see Monica back again. We’re old friends and I’ve known her for nearly 20 years. I’ve known both Marcus and Monica for a long time, they are different people in and out of their chef whites. They’re amazing teachers and they’re so fun but they also know when to be strict and focused, which is essential in a professional kitchen environment.”

Marcus, you say there are the highest number of women in this series, why do you think that is?

Marcus: “I think maybe because the year before we had a brilliant female winner [Nikita Pathakji] and I think that that really highlighted that this competition is for everyone and it’s not all about the boys. Of course, we’ve had female chefs in the finals before who came very close. Then last year we had first female winner since I’ve been on the show, which I think and I hope has inspired a whole new generation to give it a go.”

What is it about this series that still keeps viewers hooked?

Gregg: “There is so much talent throughout the other MasterChef series, but with the professionals you really see some sublime talent. It’s also similar to the other series in that it’s incredibly addictive to watch people work really hard and achieve their goals. I think there’s something almost glorious about it.”

Monica: “I think it’s because people can really take away from it. A lot of viewers have told me they love attempting the skills test that we do and they feel like they’re really learning something, I love that about it. As well as the competition element, this series also shows the behind-the-scenes reality of young chefs and their personal stories. I think people love seeing that development in contestants and seeing them gain belief and confidence themselves and their style of cooking. These chefs haven’t made their name yet and they don’t come into the studio with massive egos or any pretence. They want to find out who they are and grow from that point. I think that captivates the audience.

Marcus: “Yes I agree, I also think it’s very different to the other MasterChef series. It’s very focused on detail. It’s incredibly emotional for these chefs as they’re investing so much of themselves in the professional sense. The competitors really dig really deep into their souls through their cooking and share with us what food means to them. We also start to see chefs really coming out of their shell through their food. Difficult as it may be, I think that’s a lovely experience. I think that shows, which makes it a good watch in turn. It’s good to see chefs developing and we see a lot of emotion, because that’s what food is. So I think that’s what keeps professionals so popular and very much at the forefront of professional cookery.”

Can you describe the series in three words?

Monica: “Exciting, fun and rewarding.”

Marcus: “It’s hard to say in three! Like Monica said, it’s exciting and rewarding. I’d also say excellent – there’s a level of excellence that I think is extraordinary. The chefs have been so impressive.”

Are there any trends, influences or particular things repeated that you’ve noticed from any of the chefs this year?

Monica: “A lot of split sauces and green oil on everything! Would you agree Marcus?”

Marcus: “Absolutely. I think we even said when we were in the studio, the splitting sauce was the thing of this year. It was quite extraordinary! There was a lot of fish too.”

Gregg: “I’ve noticed a movement almost back in time, to the skill, the touch and the timing of the chefs, with less reliance on gimmicks and machines. It’s back to old fashioned cookery, which I’m really loving. I’ve also noticed a sort of fusion of East meets West. Using European cookery techniques with Asian flavours is something I find really exciting. I think it’s a great reflection of modern multicultural British society. It’s particularly great to see it in fine dining cuisine, where historically this wasn’t the case. You’ve got chefs from a mix of different backgrounds learning classic techniques along with flavours from all over the world and it’s fantastic.” 

Are there any new ingredients or dishes you’ve discovered from the show that have now become a regular dining fixture for you or that you’ve cooked yourself at home?

Gregg: “Marcus and Monica teach me stuff all the time. A big thing that I’ve learned is making sauces. You have to be patient. You have to build flavour and you have to reduce them. So now my sauces are amazing. My Bordelaise is unbelievable. So I would say my sauces and banana ice-cream, which Monica taught me. It’s just frozen bananas and cream, but it’s become a real staple at home for me.”

What are your words of advice for someone wanting to take the plunge into a culinary career? What qualities does someone need to have?

Monica: “You definitely need to be committed. I think hospitality is a career that people should only take on if they have a real passion and love for it. I don’t think it’s something you can just dip into for a couple of years if you’re unsure. You need to really love it for what it is. Also, choose your food hero or chef that you aspire to be or work with, and try to get into great kitchens and learn. Most importantly, enjoy it and enjoy that learning process. It’s also important for young chefs to get into a solid kitchen and stay committed to that place. If I see CV and a chef hasn’t stayed somewhere longer than say three months, I’m unsure if I can trust them. Whereas if they’ve stayed somewhere for a year or longer, it shows longevity and dedication.” 

Marcus: “Yes I think Monica has summed it up brilliantly. Commitment and loyalty are really important, as is choosing the right kitchen, and choosing it wisely. It can be easy to jump ship when the going gets a bit tough, for example if you’re working more hours than you want to or have to come in on your day off. But chefs need to stick with the right kitchen and team, through the good times and the bad, and be willing to work hard.”

Were there any highlights of the series for you?

Gregg: “One of my favourite parts was sitting next to Marcus and Monica during the skills test. It’s some of the most enjoyable television I’ve ever done in my life because I get to eat it and I get a one-on-one cookery lesson from two of the best chefs in the country. Their skills are just incredible so it’s a real honour and a privilege, and they really love teaching.

And a really standout moment when we weren’t filming, was when Marcus and Monica and I went to a funfair with a ghost house in Copenhagen. If you can imagine, it was the three of us holding hands in there, which was a mixture of screaming and laughing. One of our finest evenings!”

Monica: “It has to be watching Marcus and Gregg do a waltz together in one of the most famous restaurants in the world. Definite highlight of the series for me!”

Marcus: “Yes it actually started off in the first ‘experience’ room with me dancing with one of the performers – a very serious woman wearing a catsuit – and then I ended up with Gregg. So it started off well, and it ended up pretty badly dancing with Gregg. I don’t know if that will have made it into the series but it was definitely memorable!”

Can you talk more about that famous restaurant – where did the Finalists go?”

Marcus: “MasterChef took us this year to Alchemist in Copenhagen, which is an extraordinary and unique restaurant and an experience for us, the contestants, and the crew as well. It’s quite unusual in that it’s not just a meal, it’s a process that has been thought out on so many different levels. It plays on your emotions and can be surprising or push you out of your comfort zone. The food is beautiful and presented by an incredibly skilled team who really believe in Rasmus [Munk] the head chef’s, vision and passion. What’s quite scary is you see the what Alchemist is, and then you look at the man who has created it and he’s incredibly young. I think he’s about 32 and super talented. He has some great people around him because he’s so much more than just a chef. The restaurant tells a story. It’s like going into Willy Wonka’s factory, but it’s a restaurant, and it’s quite an emotional experience.” 

Monica: “Yes it was just the most amazing, jaw-dropping and theatrical experience you could have. It’s topped with amazing food that’s done in a way that’s almost political or a statement. That’s the theatrical nature of the place, it’s also a show. To realise a vision like that takes a lot of confidence. It was a unique experience, or me, for the chefs. To enter Rasmus’ world and how the team work with such precision – it’s something our finalists will take away forever. Like Marcus said it’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory turned into a restaurant. There are so many highlights from Alchemist, one of them is watching Marcus and Gregg dance together. They gave Strictly a run for their money!”

At these latter points in the series, what’s so special about moving them out of the MasterChef kitchen? 

Gregg: “When you get to the last stages of the competition you really are pushing the chefs. Each chef has their own particular cuisine that they’ve become incredibly skilled at. At these stages what we do is completely move them out of that comfort zone and throw them head on into somebody else’s style or a new environment – at a restaurant or on location. When they’re under someone’s tutelage or recreating an incredible and established dish from a top chef, it can be a style that could have been honed over 20 or 30 years, so it’s a real leveller.”